Reviewed by Aaron Horn, LMFT
For many people, facing the death of a loved one is one of the most challenging experiences in life. Not only do you have to deal with the emotional aspects of grief, but your life may also change dramatically. However, if you know what to expect, how to deal with the suffering, and how to manage your new life, that transition may feel less overwhelming. With help, you can find your way to healing.
Recognize That You’re Grieving
You can’t deal with your grief very well if you don’t understand that you’re grieving. If someone you love has died, it’s usually abundantly evident. Still, sometimes people think that a loss like that can’t affect them. Or, they denigrate the relationship, telling themselves that they never really loved that person in the first place.
There’s something else to consider about grief. It’s common to think of death as the only reason for grief. However, it can happen because of another kind of significant loss. For example, a breakup or divorce, the loss of a job or retirement, or even moving away from friends and family can bring grief. Recognize that whatever kind of loss it is, suffering can still happen.
If you’re unsure whether you’re dealing with grief, you can take an online grief test to assess your response to a loss. You can also talk to a therapist to determine if you need to address grief or other mental health issues.
Know What To Expect
If you listen to common ideas about grief, you might think that there is only one way to go through grief, only to deal with it. Friends who are trying to be helpful, may offer suggestions that don’t ring true for you. So what can you do? First, learn about the stages of grief. Next, adjust your thinking about the grief process.
What Are the Stages Of Grief?
Grief doesn’t happen in one precise moment or even a straightforward process. In 1969, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote about grief as a 5-stage process. These stages don’t necessarily happen in any specific order. Every person grieves in his or her own way and on his or her own timeline. The following are her five stages of grief.
The denial stage typically happens immediately after you learn of the loss. It’s probably not surprising that when someone dies unexpectedly, grief can start with thoughts that it can’t be happening, it isn’t real, or that you or someone else is surely mistaken in believing they are dead. Yet, even if you had a warning that the person was about to pass away, the actual event can feel shocking.
You might wake up to reality on your own, or you may need to talk to a counselor to resolve these doubts and questions.
If you feel angry after a death, it’s only natural. After all, death has taken away someone you love. But who are you mad at? You may feel anger towards the doctors who attended them in their final hours. You may feel angry at family members or friends who don’t react in the way you expect. You may be mad at God for not saving your loved one. You may even feel angry with your loved one for leaving you.
The important thing to remember is that grief can make you feel angry, no matter what else happens. The challenge here is to sort out the anger that comes from the grief and express it appropriately.
Life brings many opportunities to negotiate. If you don’t like what’s being offered, you may talk your way to a compromise. You know that a fatal loss can’t be bargained away. Yet, in the third stage of grief, that’s exactly where your thoughts turn. This is especially common when it becomes clear the person is going to die soon.
You may try to bargain with your higher power, trying to negotiate away the inevitable. “I’ll quit my bad habits if you’ll let my loved one live.” Or “If my loved one can live long enough to go to my wedding, I’ll give my time volunteering.” You may even say something like, “I’ll trade my life for theirs if you’ll only allow them to live.”
But even if the person is already gone, this stage can still happen. You might experience it in thoughts that the person would still be alive if you’d done something differently. You might also vow that you will change your life if someone will just take away the pain. This grief stage can sometimes make you feel desperate.
Dealing with your feelings is critical at this point. If you feel overwhelmed or can’t accept that a bargain will not happen, a therapist can help.
Depression is the fourth stage of grief, but it’s the stage most people associate with grief. It’s the stage in which you feel sad, tearful, and hopeless. Your body may feel heavy, and your mind might feel foggy. You may think that there’s no point in living if you can’t be with your loved one. You realize and focus on the fact that you will eventually die, too.
But during the depression stage, something positive can happen. As you face reality, experience your feelings of loss, and express your sadness, you are taking healthy steps toward healing.
In the fifth stage of grief, you come to accept your loss. You come to terms with what it means for your life. You may not feel ecstatic or full of joy.You still may feel the loss profoundly. Yet, now you can recognize that life goes on and that while there may still be hard times, there will also be good times.
How The Stages Progress
You may have noticed that the stages are in a specific order. However, they don’t always progress in the same way. You may go through the denial stage and then directly to acceptance for a short time before experiencing the other stages. You might even skip a step altogether. Any order is acceptable, but the goal is to eventually reach a point of stable acceptance and move on with your life.
Manage Your Expectations
As you’re going through the stages of grief, be mindful of what you expect the process to be like. Avoid being taken in by the usual misunderstandings about grief. Here are a few things to think about as you set your expectations.
- Ignoring the pain won’t make it go away any faster.
- It’s okay to cry or feel afraid. You don’t have to be strong to survive and accept your loss.
- On the other hand, there’s no rule that you have to cry or feel sad. It doesn’t mean that the loss means nothing to you.
- You don’t ever have to forget your loved one or the loss. If they were a significant part of your life, your memories of the time you shared with them could be a precious part of your life.
Accept Your Unique Grief Process
Grief is different for each person. You don’t have to get through it in a specific amount of time. Instead of pushing yourself to feel the way you’re “supposed to feel,” accept and appreciate your own process. Remember that because each person is a unique individual, their grief will affect them differently.
Steps That Help You Cope With Grief
Grieving can take a lot out of you. It can affect your physical and mental health dramatically. It can create situations that you need to manage with practical solutions. It can turn your life upside down and make you feel out of balance. But by taking the following steps, you can give yourself more strength to weather the storm.
Take care of your physical health, even if you don’t feel like it. Choose healthy foods and eat regular meals. Get some exercise every day. Follow sleep hygiene suggestions to make sure you are well-rested during the day. Avoid drinking too much alcohol or using drugs. The healthier your body is, the more strength and stability you’ll have to cope with the challenges of grief.
Take Care Of Your Mental Health
Sometimes grief can make you feel like you’re losing your mind. But you can improve your mental health even as you go through the grief process. Use relaxation techniques and deep breathing to calm yourself when you’re feeling stressed. Talk about your feelings or find other ways, such as art or music, to express them.
Low Vitamin D levels can increase your risk of clinical depression (not the depression stage of grief), so get outside for a while every day you can. Being outdoors in nature can help calm anxiety and ease depression, too. Give yourself enough breaks from your work and chores. Engage in the pursuits and activities you’ve enjoyed in the past. You may even benefit from doing something for someone else during this time.
Adapt To Your New Situation
A loss usually creates a new life situation. You might have to adapt to life without your lifetime companion. You might have to get into a new housing situation or make new friends. You can’t avoid dealing with the practical aspects of the loss. Don’t get in a rush to figure out what to do before it’s necessary.
But instead of putting off these considerations until you’re backed into a corner, face them when you need to make a change. If you feel overwhelmed, talk to a counselor or clinical social worker. Talk to friends. Set aside time to plan for the changes. And take steps to manage any anxiety about the process along the way.
A balanced life is a stable and peaceful life. Many people immerse themselves in work or a hobby when they’re grieving. These activities can help get your mind off of the loss. But while you’re focusing so intently on that one part of your life, it’s easy to ignore things like health, friendship, and relaxation. It’s okay to stay busy. Just make sure you leave time for self-care and social connections.
Get Help With Grief
You may be able to go through grief and come to acceptance on your own. Many people do. But there’s nothing wrong with getting help if you need it. Grief is a significant challenge for many people. They may experience complicated grief or have trouble moving on with their lives. Nevertheless, with the help of others, you can find your way to healing more easily.
Connect With Friends And Family
There may be times when you only want to be alone with your grief, and that’s okay to a point. But it’s also crucial that you spend some time with others. Connect with your close friends and family members by phone, text, or in person.
Talking to your loved ones about your grief process gives you a chance to express your feelings in a safe environment. When you allow yourself to rely on your family and friends, they can provide a layer of reliable support. They may even have helpful suggestions about how to manage the practical challenges you’re facing.
See A Grief Counselor
Grief counselors can help you express your grief and work your way through the process of grief. They listen nonjudgmentally, even when you need to express something that others would disapprove of. They can support and encourage you along the way. They can also use psychological methods and techniques to guide you through changing your mindset.
Are you wondering, “How do I find grief counseling near me?” If so, know that no matter where you are, there is someone who can offer grief counseling. Many religious organizations offer counseling. You may choose to talk to a therapist in your local community. And, if you don’t have any of these resources where you live, you can speak with a counselor who specializes in grief by using an online counseling platform.
Join A Grief Support Group
Being a part of a grief support group is a good idea. Your fellow support group members can often understand and empathize with your situation better than those who aren’t going through it. They may have practical suggestions or insights into how to deal with the loss. In addition, they’re there to listen as you express your feelings.
To start, all you have to do is answer the question, “How do I find grief support groups near me?” There are several ways. One is to use a locator tool online to search for a group. Another is to ask your minister, social worker, or therapist what groups are currently meeting in your city. Friends and family may have suggestions, too.
Dealing with grief can be a difficult thing. Yet, with a good understanding of the grief process, you can do it more easily and avoid getting overwhelmed. Look to your own support system for help. If you need to reach out for more support and assistance, don’t forget that therapists and grief support groups can help you in this difficult time.